Some of the testimony Wednesday in a Modesto murder trial focused on whether a young man knew if the three defendants were members of the Norteño street gang.
Jacob Lastra eventually told a jury that he told Modesto police Detective Ra Pouv that Jacob Segura was a Norteño gang member, and that Juan Garcia and Taylor Koplen were foot soldiers, or lower-level members, with the Norteño gang. He said he was truthful with Pouv when he identified the three defendants as gang members.
Lastra initially testified that he didn’t say the defendants were gang members. He said on the witness stand that he felt pressured during police questioning and thought the detective was trying to tell Lastra what to say about gang affiliations.
Segura, Garcia and Koplen are on trial charged with murder in the stabbing of 18-year-old Tylor Crippen, who was attacked in an east Modesto park. The defendants also face charges of robbery and two counts of attempted robbery, along with enhancements of committing crimes for the benefit of the Norteño street gang.
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If convicted, the enhancements could lengthen their prison sentences. Garcia and Koplen, both minors when the stabbing occurred, are being prosecuted as adults.
Authorities believe the defendants accosted Crippen and his girlfriend Jan. 29, 2013, before chasing Crippen into Creekwood Park, a few blocks west of Claus Road. The prosecution believes Koplen then stabbed Crippen.
The defendants went to Lastra’s home a few hours before the deadly stabbing at the park. They arrived with two girls and a gallon bottle of E&J Brandy. The group of teenagers took turns taking shots of the brandy from a glass slightly larger than a typical shot glass.
Lastra said he considered the defendants acquaintances. He had known Segura for about two years and Garcia for about a year. That was the first night he had met Koplen. Lastra testified that Segura also was known as “Green Eyes,” Garcia as “Gato” and Koplen as “Munchies.”
He testified that Segura was wearing a red-and-gray plaid shirt over a black long-sleeved shirt that night; Garcia had on a gray sweater and black shirt; and Koplen had a Raiders hat and a black sweater.
The group of teenagers drank the brandy and played pool in Lastra’s garage for about an hour before leaving, and Lastra stayed home. He testified that he estimated Koplen drank about 10 shots of brandy, and so did Garcia, who was belligerent. Lastra said the defendants left his home drunk.
The defense attorneys, before the trial, challenged the gang enhancements, saying the defendants were too drunk to know they were acting as gang members and that evidence of gang involvement was too generalized.
Lastra testified that he is not a Norteño gang member or associated with members of the gang. He also said he doesn’t know anything about the gang.
He told the jury he felt Pouv was badgering him during questioning. His father’s work computer was seized to be analyzed by police during the investigation. Lastra said his father wanted him to answer the detective’s questions so he could get back his computer.
But Lastra also said his parents were with him during the police interrogation and they never objected to the detective’s questions. During testimony Wednesday, he twice said he was truthful when answering the detective’s questions.
Also Wednesday, Marilee Marxmiller testified that she discovered what is believed to be the murder weapon about four months after the stabbing. Marxmiller used to live across the street from the park.
She testified that her family was getting ready to sell the house, and she was raking leaves in her front yard when a pocket knife came flipping out. The knife was folded closed, and it was raked out of the base of a bamboo bush.
Marxmiller told the jury she remembered investigators telling her a few months earlier that if she found anything on her property, to call the Modesto Police Department. She said she placed the rake over the knife and went inside to call police. A community service officer responded that day and collected the knife for evidence.
Testimony in the trial is expected to continue Tuesday in Stanislaus Superior Court. The defendants remain in custody pending the conclusion of the case.